I gotta say, Fela Kuti’s life and music is the last thing I ever expected to see on Broadway. Though I’m really glad to have my image of Broadway tweaked this way.
Fela does not give a complete picture of what was, after all, an extraordinarily complicated man. But it does give us a good indication of what a fiery performer and political lightning rod he was.
Westerners have come to Fela Kuti’s music in various ways, from early adopters who heard his first recordings in the 70s to people meeting him for the first time in Fela. I’m somewhere in the middle. I was a huge fan of Brian Eno’s music in the late 70s, and Eno would mention Fela Kuti frequently in interviews, so I knew to look for his music. Eventually – a term that today means an interminable 2-minute wait to log onto the computer, google the name, click on the MySpace page, and start listening to the music, but in those days meant looking through record stores, often for months – eventually, I heard the Fela Kuti song “Mr. Follow Follow.” Wow. It was like James Brown from Mars – the pidgin English was angry and, in a general way, intelligible. “Some dey follow follow, dey close dem eye.” But that groove – it was deep, irresistible, and it went on forever. (It was actually about 12 or 13 minutes.)
That’s what I miss in the show Fela – songs like “Water No Get Enemy” need time to cast their spell. At least 10 minutes. Don’t get me wrong: doing them in 3 minutes on stage is a good introduction. I just hope the folks who enjoy the Broadway show will check out Fela’s originals. Eventually. Should take about, what, 2 minutes?
What do you think of Fela, the man and the music? Leave a comment.